The pursuit of Happiness: Grievers guide

When we have such a enormous dollop of grief to deal with it can often feel like you will never be happy again – never see the silly side of life or be able to smile and seem carefree. For a while this may indeed be true, but you have to cling onto the hope that you will, one day, feel better and you will be able to smile again and enjoy life – this new life.

But getting back to when things are much harder… Being and feeling happy when you also feel so sad is intolerable. Your mind cannot compute how you can hold such despair, sadness, anger and hopelessness in one hand and laugh or feel joy in the other. It is a skill in its own right. Never before (potentially) have we had to do this – carry the weight of grief and continue with our every day lives where funny things happen, joy is given by one of your living children or a work colleague or something on the tv. Some of the main questions we have are:

  • How can I laugh when my baby has died?
  • Does this mean I don’t care about my baby?
  • Will other people think I don’t care or have ‘gotten over it’?
  • How can I be a good parent/human being if I laugh when something so tragic has happened?

And the answers are:

  • Because it was funny! You have a sense of humour that has not been lost in the fire (as it were) you are still you and certain things will make you laugh. It’s good to laugh – makes you feel good and gets the endorphins coursing through our veins – much needed at times of deep sorrow.
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY you are NOT laughing at the fact your baby died. and no one will think you are; it is a given that you care deeply for your baby. Laughing at something and your baby dying are separate things and this will take time to get used to, you will get there. You can see it in terms of your baby would want you to feel joy – like they felt when they were with you, warm, no cares in the world – loved. They would want that for you and you should want that for yourself.
  • OK firstly – who care what anyone else thinks? They haven’t got a clue what you are going through and have no right to judge, so screw them. If they are true friends they will not judge you but support you (and probably laugh along with you). But, if you’re like me… I do care what other people think about my love for Evie. I can’t demonstrate it like I can for my other daughter – it is evident I love her by the way I care for her every day. But with Evie how can I show my love? Well by grieving – crying alot, declaring my love for her on facebook, in texts, on my blog, helping other to come to terms with their own grief…but mainly it is hidden. It’s in my heart and it resides in a very personal and private space. And that can be hurtful and upsetting that we cannot outwardly demonstrate our love for our baby without it being a ‘down’ emotion – sadness/anger/despair/depression. Our great challenge as bereaved parents it to demonstrate our love in positive ways – ideas on a postcard please!
  • COMPASSION – is the buzzword here. Ask yourself, what will it achieve if I beat myself up about laughing or feeling happy? It will make you feel guilty, low, worthless and undermine your self-esteem – and what’s the good in that? Be kind to yourself and forgive any ‘sins’ as you might see them. Your worth as a human and as a parent are NOT linked to whether you laugh of not, how well you cope with your loss and how well you outwardly or inwardly grieve your baby.
The pursuit of happiness starts from the inside out.
The pursuit of happiness starts from the inside out.

Perhaps when you start to emerge from the fog of grief (this can be a different length of time for each of us) and you can say you feel a little more clear-headed and ‘normal’ then it may be time to ask yourself this question:

Who is in charge of my happiness?

The perhaps not so obvious answer is: YOU.

You are in charge of your own happiness

This is something I find very difficult to fathom. I think for a few years I wanted someone else to take responsibility for it – it was too hard. By deciding it was my family, my husband, my friends’ job to make me happy it meant I could blame someone else when I was not happy or content, thin enough, successful enough. To admit and accept I am my own master of my own happiness is a whole lot of grown up that I’m not sure I’m ready for.

I think this is especially pertinent to bereaved parents of babies. We rail at the pure injustice of what has happen – and someone has to pay! Sometimes we direct our focus on the NHS, care givers, friends who weren’t ‘there’ for us, parents who didn’t understand us or said the wrong things, partners who didn’t get our demonstrations of grief, and if in doubt you always focus blame on yourself.

This is sometimes a very necessary short-term phase that we have to go to – we are dealing with some big stuff here and it takes time to work it out – how do I function and lead a fulfilling life after the death of my baby? This is no small question.

The problem arises when this short-term strategy becomes habit and part of your ‘new normal’ (I’ll talk about this in another post). We can actually start to become the main obstacle in our own happiness which is good for no-one.

There’s a great article on Psychology Today which talks about why we don’t let ourselves be happy. They list 5 main reasons:

  1. It disrupts our sense of identity
  2. It challenges our defences
  3. It causes us anxiety
  4. It stirs up guilt
  5. It forces us to face pain

Each one on the list resonates with me and here’s how:

  1. Having Evie and my grief for her death is a part of my identity now. Being Evie’s mummy is very positive and should be part of who I am now but the mechanisms and strategies I developed to help me grieve may have welded to me and harming rather than helping me. But they feel like they are a part of who I am and I feel like my identity has been battered over the last few years – who am I now? I a huge question I’ve asked myself (I’ll talk about that in another blog post). So it feels scary to shrug off what appears to be a part of me.
  2. I had developed defences through my life to cope with situations and people, which is entirely normal. Losing Evie made those defences kick-in in the extreme – my need for control and protecting my own vulnerability from people who may say something that upsets me. But these defences could now be becoming detrimental to my happiness rather than helping me survive…something to think about.
  3. If I let go and enjoy myself, it feels like I’m leaving myself more vulnerable to hurt, loss, and disappointment. If I have more happiness because I’m more fulfilled then I have more to lose. It’s very scary when you have already lost so much.
  4. Feeling happy now can make me feel guilty that I’m not where I was 2/3 years ago. If I cling to those sad times I feel I’m closer to Evie, in those sad times I was closer to her in chronological time but I need to get my head around being close to her now in other ways. It’s difficult to see the time your baby was physically here and with you slipping away – you feel distant from them. I do still feel close to her but just not in time but that’s ok, just.
  5. Being happy now in the present is such a contrast to the sorrow I felt in the first months and year when Evie died that actually feeling an extreme high of happiness can be a stark contrast to that sad time and make me feel upset. It’s upsetting to remember when I was so sad and hopeless and to see the difference in me now can actually be really hard to see. As the article infers feeling more of anything means you feel everything more. You feel your pain of loss but you can also feel joy; trying to block out pain blocks out all emotions not just to difficult ones. I want to try and be brave to face my pain so I can feel joy too. Now what tends to often happen is we have a lovely day with Poppy and family and then in the evening I may have a cry because it emphasises that Evie wasn’t there to share it and I wasn’t able to enjoy these moments with her – it still is heartbreaking.

For the full article please read: Psychology Today: 5 reasons we don’t let ourselves be happy

As ever I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic and find out how you’ve deal with these issues, please ‘like’ and comment.

Until next time, do what you can to find your smile again

Lydia

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